Every journey starts with a first step, and for Carolina Wozniacki that was August’s Canadian Open.
The former tennis world number one, who retired from the sport in 2020, announced her plans to return to the competitive circuit in 2023.
Time spent away from tennis – and raising two children – seem to have focused the Dane’s mind, with her first-round match in Montreal yielding a comfy 6-2 6-2 victory over Kimberly Birrell.
Wozniacki has also accepted wild cards into the Cincinnati Open and US Open, offering her a chance to add to her Grand Slam title haul which, currently, boasts only the 2018 Australian Open as a member.
But with two finals and three semi-finals at the US Open, it’s not impossible that Wozniacki will return with gusto at a happy hunting ground. As Marketa Vondrousova proved at Wimbledon in July, there’s still a chance for unseeded players and wild cards to thrive in the Grand Slam events alongside those higher in the world rankings.
But has a player that has retired from tennis and come back actually gone on to win a major?
Kim Clijsters – Yes
The Belgian is the only player of the Open Era to win a singles title after retiring.
Having had a tennis court built for her in the garden of her family home at the age of five, it’s no great surprise that Kim Clijsters experienced burnout so early in her career.
Having turned professional at the age of 16 in 1999, Clijsters won her first WTA title in that maiden season and seemed destined for the very top.
The Belgian was world number one by 2003, but continued to fall short in the Grand Slams – losing in four finals, before a lengthy injury absence extended her wait for a much-anticipated major.
An ankle injury suffered in 2004 saw her tumble down the world rankings, but by the 2005 US Open she was back in form and finally got her hands on a Grand Slam trophy – defeating Mary Pierce in the final at Flushing Meadows in straight sets.
Unable to repeat that feat, Clijsters cited burnout as the reason for her first retirement in 2007 aged just 23.
The Belgian was tempted out of retirement, in a sense, when agreeing to play in an exhibition event to mark the opening of the new retractable roof at Wimbledon in 2009. Clijsters on both the singles and mixed doubles tournaments, and made a full return to the WTA Tour thereafter.
That new lease of life would secure Clijsters a place in the annals of tennis history as the only player of the Open Era to win a Grand Slam singles title post-retirement – in fact, she triumphed in three finals; the US Opens of 2009 and 2010, plus the Australian Open in 2011.
Martina Navratilova – Yes (Sort Of)
Having built a legacy that everyone but the select few can only dream of – 18 major titles, including the career Grand Slam, Martina Navratilova sailed off into retirement at the age of 37 in 1994.
But that competitive spirit still bubbled away inside her, and so in the year 2000 Navratilova made the decision to come out of retirement in her forties – albeit as mostly a doubles specialist.
And she enjoyed a new lease of life, reaching the final of the women’s doubles at the 2003 US Open alongside Svetlana Kuznetsova while winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon mixed doubles titles with Leander Paes that same year.
Then, in 2006, she made history as the oldest Grand Slam winner – just one month shy of her fiftieth birthday, Navratilova teamed up with Bob Bryan to win the US Open title in her final major appearance.
Martina Hingis – Yes (Sort Of)
Martina Hingis’ outstanding career was bookended by Grand Slam victories at the ages of 15 and 37.
That maiden triumph, in the women’s doubles at Wimbledon, came with the Swiss ace still three months shy of her sixteenth birthday, and would set the tone for remarkable success early in her career – Hingis was already a five-time major winner by the time she turned 20.
She retired at the age of 22 in 2003, revealing that wanted to study for a degree, coach tennis and indulge in her passion for horse riding away from the spotlight of the media glare.
But, as we’ve already learned, it can be hard for the best players to walk away from tennis entirely, and Hingis returned in 2005 – reaching three more quarter-finals in at Grand Slams.
A second retirement followed in 2007, before Hingis – like Navratilova – decided to come back as a doubles specialist in 2014. Teaming up with that man Paes, Shania Mirza and Jamie Murray, she won a whopping eleven doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles between 2015 and 2017.
Bjorn Borg – No
The legendary Swede is perhaps the best example of why coming out of retirement can be a bad idea.
In his heyday, which saw Borg win eleven Grand Slam titles before retiring at the age of 26 in 1981, tennis was all long hair, bad attitude, chalk flying up and wooden racquets.
When Borg decided to return a decade later having made his fortune with his own eponymous fashion label, tennis had changed. The players were now using graphite racquets and opted for more conservative haircuts and demeanour – Borg was a fish out of water.
Not only did he not win another major, the Swede didn’t even win a single game as a professional second time around….